Blog
Law Offices of Chance M. McGhee

Call Today for a FREE Consultation

210-342-3400

Timing Chapter 13 to Discharge Income Taxes

August 3rd, 2020 at 7:00 am

Usually you can discharge income taxes (write them off forever) by waiting long enough to file bankruptcy. Here’s how it works with Chapter 13.


Our blog post of three weeks ago introduced the importance of timing your bankruptcy filing right. We gave a list of 15 examples where timing can make a huge difference. Two weeks we covered the first one, timing bankruptcy to cover as many debts as possible. Last week was about discharging/writing off income taxes, specifically under a Chapter 7 “straight bankruptcy.” This week is about doing so under Chapter 13 “adjustment of debts.”

How to Time a Chapter 13 Filing to Discharge a Tax?

See our last blog post about the timing rules under Chapter 7. That’s because whether you can discharge an income tax is the same under Chapter 7 and 13. Very briefly, you can discharge an income tax as long as you file your Chapter 13 case both:

  1. at least 3 years after the tax return for that tax was due, and
  2. at least 2 years after that tax return was actually submitted to the IRS or state tax authority.  

See Sections 507(a)(8)(A)(i) and 523(a)(1)(B) of the U.S. Bankruptcy Code for these two timing rules.

You and your bankruptcy lawyer will carefully review and apply these rules to see if you can meet them. Your situation may be too urgent to wait long enough. There may be creditor pressures, by the IRS/state tax agency or other unrelated creditors, so you can’t wait. Or there may be other good reasons to file before enough time has passed.

But let’s assume that you find out that you can meet the two timing rules. Also assume that you meet other conditions for discharging the tax. (See last week’s blog post for some other conditions beyond the two timing ones.) You file the Chapter 13 case and the income tax debt qualifies for discharge.

Then what happens? How is the tax dealt with under Chapter 13?

Using Chapter 13 Instead of Chapter 7 to Discharge a Tax

Chapter 7 usually discharges a dischargeable income tax very fast. The moment you file your bankruptcy case the “automatic stay” would protect you from all collection of that tax. Then you would very likely no longer legally owe the tax about 4 months after filing a Chapter 7 case.

Chapter 13 is just as fast at protecting you from tax collection: the “automatic stay” goes immediately into effect. But the discharge of the tax happens only at the end of the case, usually 3 to 5 years later.

Furthermore, often you need to pay some portion of that tax before you can discharge the rest. Not always, but if you have money to spare in your payment plan some will go towards the tax.

Why in the world would you file a Chapter 13 case when it’s so much slower? Why would you when under Chapter 13 you risk paying something on the tax instead of nothing?

Why Discharge Tax through Chapter 13?

The straightforward reason is that Chapter 13 could be much better for you for other reasons. Those other reasons may outweigh the benefit of discharging your dischargeable tax debt quickly and completely.

Chapter 7 and 13 each has tons of potential advantages and disadvantages. Your bankruptcy lawyer’s job is to help you determine whether the other advantages of Chapter 13 outweigh these disadvantages.

What might be some of those advantages?

One example: you may owe some other income tax debt(s) which do not meet the timing conditions for discharge. So these other taxes would not be discharged under either Chapter 7 or 13. In a Chapter 7 case, you’d owe that tax in full immediately upon finishing the case, about 4 months after filing. Interest and penalties would continue accruing. Those tax/interest/penalties may be too large to pay off reasonably through a monthly payment plan with the IRS/state.  It may not qualify for an Offer in Compromise or other settlement. Chapter 13 would enable you to pay it more flexibly, usually without accruing interest and penalties. So, you could well save money and avoid significant risks by handling all of your taxes in a Chapter 13 case.

There are many, many other reasons unrelated to income taxes that Chapter 13 could be worthwhile for you. It could potentially prevent a home foreclosure or vehicle repossession, and then give you a workable way to save the home or vehicle. Chapter 13 can often solve child or spousal support problems much better than Chapter 7. There are many other situations where Chapter 13 gives you extraordinary powers over your debts. So those advantages can make this longer procedure very worthwhile overall.

How Does Chapter 13 Discharge an Income Tax?

Assume again that your tax debt qualifies for discharge, timing-wise and by meeting all the legal conditions. So it can get discharged in your Chapter 13 case.

However, Chapter 13 treats a dischargeable tax differently than under Chapter 7. As mentioned above, the discharge happens at the end of the case usually years later. And you may have to pay something on it before then.

What determines how much, if any, you pay on this tax?

Under Chapter 13 a dischargeable income tax debt is treated like the rest of your “general unsecured” debts. Under your payment plan all such debts receive the same percentage of their total amounts. That percentage may be any amount from 0% to 100% of the debt amount, depending on your budget and other factors.

That’s right: it’s theoretically possible that you’d have to pay 100% of your tax and other debts. But that’s highly unlikely. That only happens if you have enough money in your budget that you can reasonably afford to do so. That’s very rare.

More likely your budget is barely enough for living expenses and to pay special higher-priority debts during your case. That could result in your dischargeable tax debt (and all your “general unsecured” debts) receiving 0%—absolutely nothing.

To make better practical sense of this, let’s look at two situations: First, this “0% plan,” and second, where your tax debt does not increase what you pay to your creditors.

The 0% Payment Plan

As just mentioned, in this kind of Chapter 13 case all your available money goes to living expenses plus special debts. Those special debts are either secured or “priority” ones. These could include home mortgages, vehicle loans, nondischargeable taxes, child and spousal support, and such. The law usually requires you to pay them in full before paying anything to the “general unsecured” debts.  As a result it’s possible that during your 3-to-5-year payment plan there’s no money at all for your “general unsecured” debts. That means that one of those debts, the dischargeable income tax, also receives nothing. That’s called a 0% Chapter 13 plan. (The percentage means the extent to which you’re paying the general unsecured debts.) These 0%cases are not unusual (although there are regional variations).

If you successfully complete a Chapter 13 case, when you do your bankruptcy judge discharges the entire tax. Under a 0% plan, you didn’t pay any of the tax debt during the case. And then after the discharge you don’t have to pay any of it either, foreever.  

Fixed Total Amount Chapter 13 Plans

There are other Chapter 13 payment plans in which your tax debt does not increase the amount you pay. You pay a fixed total amount to your creditors based on the amount you can afford to pay beyond your living expenses.

Often the practical effect of this is that there is some money for your “general unsecured” debts. So it’s not a 0% plan.

But because the amount you pay over the life of the case is a fixed amount, the amount left over for the pool of general unsecured debts, after paying certain secured and priority debts, is a fixed amount as well. That in turn means that all the general unsecured debts have to split up that left over amount. (This is true as long as the total amount of those debts is greater than the amount you can afford to pay. That’s almost always the situation. Otherwise you likely don’t need Chapter 13 help.)

With all the general unsecured debts being paid out of that fixed amount, this means that the total amount of this debt doesn’t matter. If the total debt amount is higher, this just means that you pay each debt a lower percentage.

This means that having a dischargeable tax debt often does not increase the amount you pay.

An Example

Here’s a simple example. Assume that during the life of a 3-year payment plan you expect to have money to pay a total of $3,000 into the pool of general unsecured debts. That’s based on what you can reasonably pay to all your debts, minus what goes to secured and priority debts. Assume also that you have $60,000 in unsecured credit cards and medical debts. This means that the $3,000 you pay would amount to paying 5% of these general unsecured debts. ($3,000 divided by $60,000 equals 5%.) 

Now assume that you also have a $10,000 of dischargeable income tax debt. You add this to the $60,000, making a total of $70,000 of general unsecured debts. Now the $3,000 gets divided among the $70,000 in debts, meaning that now you are only paying 4.3% of those debts ($3,000 divided by $70,000 equals 4.3%.) 

This situation—where you’re paying a fixed amount to the general unsecured debts—is very common. So it’s common that having a dischargeable tax debt actually does not add anything to the amount you pay. That tax debt just reduces the percentage that all the general unsecured debts receive.

 

If I Have Overdue Medical Bills, Can I File for Bankruptcy?

July 27th, 2020 at 11:42 am

TX bankrutpcy attorney, TX chapter 7 lawyerThe U.S. has some of the highest medical costs in the world, leaving many patients who visit the emergency room or go to the hospital financially destitute. Even those who have health insurance may find that their coverage is not enough to fully cover their necessary medical treatments. No one can predict the manifestation of serious illnesses or accidental injuries, but you rarely have a valid choice, leaving you to choose between unwanted debt or suffer the possibly fatal consequences. If you find yourself overwhelmed with medical debt, you do have legal options to help you payback the costs overtime or relieve yourself of the costs altogether. Filing for bankruptcy may be your last resort, but it may also be your only chance of moving forward.

“Medical Bankruptcy”

Those whose debt is solely made up of pastdue medical bills may believe that they can file for “medical bankruptcy” and avoid their other assets getting involved in the process. There is no type of bankruptcy known as medical bankruptcy; however, medical bills are a common reason that people file for bankruptcy. Medical debt falls under the same category, known as unsecured debt, as credit card debt, personal loans, old utility bills, and borrowed money from family or friends. Since bankruptcy cases must be equally fair for both the debtor and creditor, you must list all of your debts, personal property, and real estate within your bankruptcy case. There are two ways that most people file for bankruptcy: Chapter 7 and Chapter 13 bankruptcy, both of which have a large impact on your credit score.

Chapter 7 Bankruptcy

Filing for Chapter 7 bankruptcy is often the more desired option since it discharges or forgives all of your debts, not requiring you to pay them back. Any medical debt that you have accumulated can be included in a Chapter 7 bankruptcy claim. The process typically only takes four to six months to complete and grants immediate relief to those filing for this type of bankruptcy. There are a few types of debt that cannot be discharged, such as income taxes and past-due child support or alimony payments. While Chapter 7 is often the most desirable option, since you will not need to pay the debt back, there are strict eligibility requirements. If your household income is lower than the state median income, you are eligible to file Chapter 7 bankruptcy.

Chapter 13 Bankruptcy

This type of bankruptcy extends your timeline for paying back your debts, creating a three to five year payment plan for debtors. Chapter 13 bankruptcy is the common option for those who have a steady income, allowing them to pay off their debts while still having disposable income. The amount owed is dependent upon your debt amount and your income. Depending on your situation, your amount owed could be reduced and you may have your remaining debt discharged at the end of your payment plan. Any missed payments can lead to the seizing of your assets.

Contact a New Braunfels Bankruptcy Attorney

As you can see, there are a number of factors that can contribute to your ability to file for bankruptcy and which type of bankruptcy is best for your situation. It is always advised to speak with a well-seasoned attorney who understands your state’s policies regarding filing for bankruptcy. The Law Offices of Chance M. McGhee has over 20 years of experience assisting Texans overcome their debt difficulties, including those that consist of significant medical costs. Contact our Boerne bankruptcy lawyer at 210-342-3400 to discuss the details of your case during your free consultation.

 

Sources:

https://www.thebalance.com/what-to-know-about-filing-medical-bankruptcy-4159606

https://www.creditkarma.com/advice/i/medical-debt-in-bankruptcies

https://upsolve.org/learn/get-rid-of-medical-bills-in-bankruptcy/

 

Timing Bankruptcy to Discharge Income Taxes

July 27th, 2020 at 7:00 am

  

Usually you can discharge income taxes (write them off forever) by waiting to file bankruptcy long enough. Here’s how it works under Chapter 7.

 

Our blog post of two weeks ago introduced the importance of timing your bankruptcy filing right. We gave a list of 15 examples of timing considerations. Last week we started with the first one, timing the filing to cover as many debts as possible. Today it’s about discharging/writing off income taxes, specifically under a Chapter 7 “straight bankruptcy.”

Here are a few eye-catching facts:

  • It is possible to discharge many income tax debts, so that you do not owe a dime of that tax.
  • You just have to meet a list of conditions.
  • Most, but not all, of those conditions involve the passing of time. You need to wait long enough before filing bankruptcy to permanently discharge a tax debt.
  • If you don’t meet the conditions, bankruptcy does not discharge the tax at all. You owe it in full. If you filed a Chapter 7 case, you have to pay the tax after completing the case.
  • In that situation you’d also have to pay the continuously incurring tax interest and penalties.
  • But if you do meet the conditions, your Chapter 7 case will discharge the entire tax. You will owe nothing after your case is finished (usually only about 4 months after filing it).
  • You will also not owe any of the related tax interest or penalties.
  • There are various additional factors—such as recorded tax liens—that can complicate the situation and the tactics involved.

Timing is Often Crucial

Although there is a list of conditions, often the ones that matter are the ones involving timing. Specifically they pertain to when you file your Chapter 7 case.

Much of the time a Chapter 7 case will discharge an income tax debt if you meet two timing conditions. The date that you and your bankruptcy lawyer file that bankruptcy case must be both:

  1. at least 3 years after the tax return for that tax was due, and
  2. at least 2 years after that tax return was actually submitted to the IRS or state tax authority.  

See Section 507(a)(8)(A)(i) of the U.S. Bankruptcy Code for this first timing condition; section 523(a)(1)(B) for the second.

Note: Regarding the first 3-year condition above, add any time given through an extension to file the pertinent tax return. Section 507(a)(8)(A)(i) of the Bankruptcy Code. For example, assume you got the usual 6-month tax return extension from April 15 to October 15 for the pertinent year. Then you don’t start the 3-year time period until that October 15 instead of April 15.

Applying these Timing Rules

These two timing rules will make more sense when applied to an example.

Assume the following. You:

  • owe $10,000 in income taxes for the 2016 tax year, plus a bunch of accruing interest and penalties
  • had asked for a 6-month extension to October 15, 2017 (actually to October 16 since the 15th that year was a Sunday)
  • actually did not submit the tax return until December 1, 2017

If you file a Chapter 7 case before October 16, 2020, you would not discharge the $10,000 tax. You’d continue owing the $10,000 tax, plus the accruing interest and penalties.

However, under many circumstances if you file on or after October 16, 2020 you would discharge all of the $10,000. You would no longer owe any of it, including the interest and penalties.

Why the total difference? Because as of October 16, 2020:

  1. At least 3 years would have passed since the extended tax return due date of October 16, 2017, and also
  2. At least 2 years would have passed since actually submitting the tax return on December 1, 2017.

Other Conditions

Earlier we said that are other conditions to meet besides the two timing ones referred to here. So what are those other conditions that would result in an income tax not being discharged, even after meeting the above 2-year and 3-year conditions?

There are three other conditions or situations to look out for:

  1. Tax Fraud or Evasion:  The Bankruptcy Code says you can’t get a discharge of a tax for which you “made a fraudulent return or willfully attempted in any manner to evade or defeat such tax.” Section 523(a)(1)(C).  The problem is that language is quite vague. So bankruptcy judges interpret this language differently. For example, is it a willful attempt to evade a tax if you don’t submit the tax return when due, even if you submitted it voluntarily a year later? Talk with your bankruptcy lawyer about how your local bankruptcy court interprets this language. 
  2. Income Tax Liens: Once the IRS or state tax agency records a tax lien, that puts a legal cloud over either all your personal or real property, or both. Depending on what you own, that can turn a tax debt that bankruptcy will discharge in full into one that you still have to pay in full or in part. A tax lien creates complications that you need to thoroughly discuss with your bankruptcy lawyer.
  3. Offer in Compromise/Prior Bankruptcy: Have you made an “offer in compromise” to the IRS or state to settle the debt? Have you filed a prior bankruptcy case involving this same tax debt? Under these rather unusual circumstances there are some additional timing rules. Tell your lawyer if either of these circumstances applies to you, in order to meet the special rules.  

Conclusion

Assuming these three special conditions do not apply, and you’ve met the 2-year and 3-year conditions, a Chapter 7 case should discharge your tax debt.

 

Timing Bankruptcy to Cover New Debts

July 20th, 2020 at 7:00 am

A bankruptcy covers the debts you owe as of the moment you file your case, not future debts. So how do you know when to file your case?

 

In last week’s blog post we introduced how to time your bankruptcy filing. We gave a list of 15 examples of timing considerations. Today we start with the first example: timing your bankruptcy filing so that it covers as many debts as possible.

Debts You Might Owe Very Soon

Here are two situations in which you expect to soon owe a debt that you don’t owe at the moment.

First, let’s say you have a medical condition for which you are about to see a doctor or other health professional. Or it’s an ongoing condition for which you get treatment regularly. Let’s assume that you know that you can’t afford to pay the upcoming medical bills for these upcoming services. You are already feeling overwhelmed by your present debts. You’re feeling pressure to file bankruptcy now to get relief from those debts. But you’re wondering if you should wait to file bankruptcy until after you’ve finished incurring the upcoming medical debts.

Or second, let’s say you’ve been relying on credit cards, cash advances and such to get by. You’re falling further and further behind, and you know the situation is not sustainable. You recognize that you’ll never be able to pay all your debts, so you need bankruptcy relief. But you don’t know when you should stop using the credit and file bankruptcy.

Here’s some guidance.

Bankruptcy Only Includes Existing Debts

Debts that you legally owe at the moment you file your bankruptcy are included in your bankruptcy case. Debts you don’t owe until after you file your bankruptcy are not included. That include debts you incur the next day. Or actually, even debts you incur an hour after your filing.

For example, usually 3 or 4 months after filing a Chapter 7 “straight bankruptcy” case you receive a discharge. That legally writes off most debts, including virtually all medical debts and unsecured credit card debts. But that only covers those medical and credit card (and other) debts legally owed at time of filing.

And in a Chapter 13 “adjustment of debts,” only the debt in existence at the time of filing are covered in the court-approved payment plan.

What Determines whether a Debt is Included

Under bankruptcy law, a debt is defined as a “liability on a claim.” Section 101(12) of the U.S. Bankruptcy Code. In other words, a debt is what you owe on a “claim.” And a “claim” is a “right to payment” that a creditor has against you. Section 101(5) of the Bankruptcy Code. Therefore, the issue is whether you and/or the creditor have acted to trigger a right of payment from you. If so, and that occurred before you file the bankruptcy case, the debt is included.

So, a medical provider has a right to payment from you immediately upon providing you the medical services. A credit card creditor has a right of payment from you immediately you’re your use of the card for a purchase or cash advance. Similar triggers create a debt with other types of debts.

What’s Not Required

Notice in the two above examples we said the right to payment exists “immediately upon” the triggering event.  So the debt exists then as well. This does not require the creditor to send a bill, or for you to receive it.

Notice this also means that neither you nor the creditor needs to know the amount of the debt. For bankruptcy purposes it’s already a debt that can be included in your bankruptcy case. The amount can be worked out later.

The debt can also be “contingent.” You may not actually have to pay the debt yourself; that may depend on a separate event. For example, someone else may also be liable on a joint debt, or it may be covered by insurance. But it’s still a debt for bankruptcy purposes.

Also, you may not agree that you owe the debt. It can be “disputed.” It’s still a debt for bankruptcy purposes and thus included in your bankruptcy case. The creditor and you may resolve the dispute later, if necessary.

(See Section 101(5)(a) of the Bankruptcy Code.)

Trigger Event Not Always Obvious

With a medical or credit card debt it’s quite straightforward when the debt has been created. And that’s true of the majority of debts; it’s usually pretty obvious. For example, you become liable on a vehicle loan debt when you sign or otherwise legally enter into the loan agreement. Same when you buy furniture on a contract, or incur a payday loan.

But how about an annual federal or state income tax debt? What triggers that into a debt? 

There’s a relatively simple answer on this: legalistically you owe the tax as of the end of that tax year. So as of January 1 of the following year you can include that tax in your bankruptcy case. (The effect of including it is a different question. The tax must meet certain conditions to discharge it under Chapter 7, for example. But if it doesn’t meet those conditions, you can pay it under the favorable conditions of Chapter 13.)

Tougher Situations

How about more complicated debts? How about a debt arising out of a divorce, such as an obligation to pay one of the marital debts? Or to pay child support? Do you have to wait (and not file your bankruptcy case) until the divorce is final? Or don’t some of those debts arise from the marriage itself so you can file bankruptcy earlier?

Or how about an apartment lease that you signed a while ago but want to get out of now? Is the triggering event when you signed the lease? Or is a new debt created every month you stay in the apartment? If it’s the latter then does that mean that you may still owe for the time you stay there past your bankruptcy filing date?

Similarly, on a condo foreclosure, would you continue owing homeowner association dues for the months after your bankruptcy filing? Does it matter that you’ve moved out if the condo is still in your name until the foreclosure is final?

In these and many other less straightforward situations the answers are not nearly so obvious. And the answers may be surprising and financially dangerous.

Such as in the last example. Generally you DO keep incurring each new month of homeowner dues. And you do so as long as the lender has not completed the foreclosure process. That could take many months, or in some circumstances even years. Those accruing dues would not usually be covered by a bankruptcy case you filed before those months/years of dues accrued.

So deciding when to file your case can get complicated fast.

The Best Advice is to Get Some Good Advice

Even in relatively clear situations—the above medical, credit card, and income tax ones—there are delicate bankruptcy timing issues.

If you’re anticipating many months (or even years) of medical procedures, should you wait until they’re done? What if you’re being sued/foreclosed/repossessed and don’t feel you can wait?

When does it make sense to wait to the end of a calendar year to include that tax debt in your Chapter 13 case? Are there other alternatives such as a partial-year tax filing?

The timing issues get even more complicated in the other less-straightforward examples we gave, and in countless others.

The honest truth is that the timing solution will always depend on your unique situation. It’s actually true: you are unique, your combination of circumstances is unique, and your timing solution must be unique.

It’s the job of your bankruptcy lawyer to understand you and your situation. He or she is trained and experienced about your legal options, timing and otherwise. He or she has spent a career wrestling through tough situations like yours. You’ll learn about your timing options, the advantages and disadvantages of each, and likely get a recommendation about what’s best.

 

What Are the Risks of Working with a Debt Settlement Company to Resolve My Debt?

July 13th, 2020 at 10:46 pm

TX bankrutpcy lawyer, Texas debt attorney, The words “filing for bankruptcy” can be enough to send those struggling financially into a full-blown anxiety attack. You may be thinking about the dramatic television depictions of bankruptcy, with peoples’ belongings being publicly advertised for sale and everyone becoming aware of their financial destitute. Because of these dramatizations, many will seek alternative options for paying off their massive credit card debts. No one wants to find themselves in the situation where bankruptcy is their only option; however, these alternatives can be more harmful to your credit than properly filing for bankruptcy. Debt settlement companies are a commonly advertised substitute, but the promises are often too good to be true.

What Is a Debt Settlement Company?

A debt settlement program is one sponsored by a for-profit company with the promise that they will work with your demanding creditors to negotiate a viable settlement for you to resolve your past-due payments. This settlement will be a lump-sum amount that is less than your total debt owed. Since it is unrealistic that you would have this money on hand, you will be asked to set aside a fixed amount every month into a savings account. Once the sum totals the settlement that they negotiated, you will pay the settlement amount. These companies or programs often tell their clients to halt their monthly payments to their creditors as they gather their settlement funds in their savings account.

The Risk You Take

As is the case with any financial decision, it is critical that you are fully informed of the potential risks that you may face if you decide this is the route that you would like to take.

  1. Unrealistic Expectations: These companies have terms and conditions required of their clients, including a time period that they must continue to set aside funds. Many of these programs require money to be deposited into their savings account, consistently, for 36 months or more. This can be a difficult requirement to meet since your financial situation can greatly change over three years. It is important to read these fine print details before signing up because you may end up dropping out for failure to meet them, leaving you in the same financial spot as you were when you signed up for the program.
  2. Empty Promises: There is no guarantee that their negotiations will stick. Many creditors may not agree to their negotiations, and after three years of saving, you may still owe the full amount. Debt settlement programs also tend to negotiate smaller debts first, allowing your larger debts to continue racking up interest and fees that you will need to pay later on.
  3. Faulty Advice: As previously mentioned, many of these programs encourage their clients to stop all payments to their creditors as they save on the side. This can have a negative impact on their credit score and have you accruing a high amount in late fees and other penalties.

Call a New Braunfels Bankruptcy Alternatives Lawyer

Unfortunately, some companies offering debt settlement programs fill their clients with empty promises. These programs may charge fees before any of your debts are settled and improperly advise you on your communication with your creditors, leaving your credit score in shambles. Before making any decisions regarding how you intend on paying your creditors, you should speak with an experienced attorney. At the Law Offices of Chance M. McGhee, our bankruptcy lawyer advises his clients on how to make up for their debts, providing them with information about bankruptcy and valid alternatives. We work tirelessly to help our clients move forward from their financial burdens while steering clear of scams and empty promises. For help determining your path of recovery, contact our San Antonio bankruptcy attorney at 210-342-3400 for a free consultation.

 

Source:

https://www.consumer.ftc.gov/articles/0145-settling-credit-card-debt

 

 

Timing Your Bankruptcy

July 13th, 2020 at 7:00 am

The timing of your bankruptcy case is important, sometimes extremely important. It can determine if your case is as successful as it can be.

 

Five weeks ago we started a series on why you should get legal advice from a bankruptcy lawyer. We’ve also been making a point of showing why it’s smart to do so early, when you start considering bankruptcy.

It’s super important to get this legal advice so that you can learn:

  1. if bankruptcy is the best option for you, and how to pursue other alternatives
  2. how Chapter 7, 11, 12, and 13 work, and whether either are right for you
  3. what actions you should take to position yourself, whether you’re possibly or definitely filing bankruptcy
  4. what you should avoid doing
  5. the best timing for your bankruptcy filing

If you want to look back, we covered #1 and #2 five weeks ago. The next four blog posts got into different aspects of what you should and shouldn’t be doing before filing (#3 and #4). These included keeping assets (4 weeks ago), taking on debt (3 weeks ago), filing income tax returns and paying the taxes (2 weeks ago), and paying child/spousal support (1 week ago).

Today we start on how to best time the filing of your bankruptcy case.

Bankruptcy Timing

Frankly, this is a huge topic. That’s because so much our financial lives are tied to time. One day you don’t owe a debt. The next day you go to a medical appointment and immediately owe a debt to the doctor’s office. You get the bill with a due date (after insurance pays a portion, if you’re fortunate enough to have insurance). If you can’t pay it by the due date, the debt goes into collections at some point in time. Then at some point you get sued, which turns—a certain amount of time later—into a judgment against you. After a short period of time (usually), that turns into a garnishment of your paycheck. All of these steps involve timing, with deadlines and time-based events.

Similarly, bankruptcy involves many issues of timing. Using the example above, filing bankruptcy stops the debt collection process wherever it is at the time.  If a lawsuit has been filed by the collector but no judgment yet entered, bankruptcy stops the entry of a judgment. If a judgment has been entered but no garnishment yet ordered, bankruptcy filing at that time prevents the garnishment. If your wages are the midst of being garnished, bankruptcy stops the garnishment. Whether it stops your current paycheck from being garnished or the next one, it all depends on timing.

Important Examples of Good (and Bad) Timing

The timing of your bankruptcy filing can affect all of the following. Whether:

  1. the bankruptcy case includes recent or ongoing debts or not
  2. you have to pay an income tax in full, in part, or not at all
  3. you must pay interest on an income tax because of a tax lien
  4. you can discharge (legally write off) a credit card debt, or a portion of it
  5. you can discharge a student loan debt
  6. you qualify for a vehicle loan cramdown—reducing monthly payments, interest rate, and total debt—and still keep the vehicle
  7. you qualify for a personal property collateral cramdown—paying less—and still keep the collateral
  8. you stop the repossession of your vehicle in time, or lose it to the vehicle loan creditor
  9. you prevent the foreclosure of your home in time, enabling you to catch up over time
  10. you get more time to sell your home, including years from now
  11. you qualify for a Chapter 7 case under the “means test,” or must instead file under Chapter 13
  12. you qualify for a 3-year Chapter 13 payment plan or instead must pay for 5 years
  13. your sale or gifting an asset is a “fraudulent transfer
  14. your payment to a friendly creditor is a “preference
  15. you can keep all of your assets if you’ve moved from one state to another in the past several years

Conclusion

Just looking down this list gives you a better idea how important the timing of your bankruptcy can be. We’ll be covering these timing issues one-by-one in our next blog posts. There’s a good chance that one, or even a number of them, apply to you. If any do, and you need to know more about it, please call us. We would appreciate being your bankruptcy lawyers, helping you fully  benefit from the law.

 

Paying Unpaid Child/Spousal Support before Bankruptcy

July 6th, 2020 at 7:00 am

Before filing bankruptcy, should you pay child/spousal support debt in the meantime? This may depend on whether you file Chapter 7 or 13.


Our last three blog posts have been about what you should and should not do before filing bankruptcy. Three weeks ago we focused on keeping your assets, especially any retirement funds, and collateral, such as home or vehicle. Two weeks we discussed whether to take on more debt, maybe to buy time and not need to file bankruptcy. And last week we looked at whether you should file any unfiled income tax returns, and pay income taxes.

Today the question is whether to pay unpaid child/spousal support before filing bankruptcy. As with all of these issues, there are some general principles worth getting to understand. But everybody’s situation is truly unique. So you really do need the help of an experience bankruptcy lawyer to apply these principles to your personal situation. This blog post can be the first step towards becoming well-informed about your options. It’ll help you ask the right questions so that you can make the best decisions.

Child/Spousal Support Collection

If you haven’t already learned the hard way, the collection of child and spousal support can be extremely aggressive. If you are behind on support, your ex-spouse and the support enforcement agency have tremendous tools to use against you to make you catch up.

In virtually all states an ex-spouse—or the local support enforcement agency—has extraordinary ways to collect unpaid support.  

These include ways of grabbing your money directly. We’re talking garnishing your wages and bank accounts, and grabbing income tax refunds.

But the collection tools also include ways to hurt you so that you’ll be forced to pay. Your ex-spouse and support enforcement can often put liens on your possessions and your real estate. Your ex-spouse/support enforcement might then take these assets to sell and pay the support debt. They can often suspend your driver’s license. This includes a commercial driver’s license, so you can’t work if have a job requiring the license. They can even suspend your professional or occupational license. That could prevent you from legally working in your profession or business as a nurse, doctor, physical therapist, lawyer, realtor, insurance agent, mortgage broker, etc.

On top of all this, you could lose your hunting, fishing, boating and other recreational licenses. You could even be ineligible to receive a U.S. passport.

Bankruptcy Doesn’t Discharge Unpaid Child/Spousal Support

No form of bankruptcy can discharge (legally write off) unpaid child/spousal support. So you might as well prioritize paying the support, right? Maybe.

Stopping Support Collection

Also, Chapter 7 “straight bankruptcy” does not directly stop, or even pause, any of the above forms of support collections. Even more reason to put every dime into catching up on the support, right?

Maybe. But first be aware that Chapter 13 “adjustment of debts” CAN stop the collection of unpaid support. Furthermore, a Chapter 13 official payment plan can give you 3 years, or often as much as 5 years to catch up on any child/spousal support. Under the right circumstances you can be protected from support collection throughout those years of catching up.

So when on the brink of bankruptcy, it might make practical sense to not pay a support payment. It may make sense to pay that unpaid support over time instead. You might need to use your precious money for some other extremely urgent purpose.

This may be sensible if you are currently not being hit with ongoing support collection efforts. It would also be important that you don’t have reason to believe such efforts are imminent. Given how aggressive those efforts can be, this is a delicate calculation.

Determining Whether Chapter 13 Is Right for You

Be aware this particular scenario of not paying support only makes sense if you end up filing under Chapter 13.

As stated above, only Chapter 13 stops the collection of unpaid support arrearage. The more common Chapter 7 type of bankruptcy does not.

(Note that your obligation to pay ongoing monthly support after filing the Chapter 13 case continues. So collection of the ongoing monthly support can continue.)

Only Chapter 13 gives you a protected and extended method of catching up on your unpaid support. Chapter 7 leaves you at the mercy of your ex-spouse/the support enforcement agency, and their collection tools listed above.

The decision whether to file a Chapter 7 vs. Chapter 13 one is always a multi-faceted one. The Chapter 7 procedure itself is usually less expensive and takes much less time. But Chapter 13 gives you much stronger tools, not just with unpaid child/spousal support. If you’re behind on a mortgage, are in a difficult vehicle loan, owe income or property taxes, and many other challenging situations, Chapter 13 can work legal miracles.

Whether these powerful tools are worth the extra money and time is a multi-faceted decision. It’s one that definitely requires legal advice.

An Urgent Decision

By its very nature, whether or not to pay a child/spousal support payment is a very urgent decision. If you are in the midst of support collection efforts, those efforts are likely causing you significant financial pain. If that’s not happening yet, they can occur at virtually any time. You have to make some big decisions quickly.

The initial meeting with a bankruptcy lawyer is usually free. The sooner you get that initial legal advice the sooner you’ll know whether you should pay the child/spousal support. The sooner you will feel the relief of knowing where you’re heading. The sooner you will be turning the corner to a calmer financial life.

 

How Do I Know if I Should File for Bankruptcy?

July 1st, 2020 at 7:46 pm

Texas bankruptcy attorney, file for bankruptcy in TexasFor many people, the thought of filing for bankruptcy is a scary one. However, for many people, filing for bankruptcy is the best thing they could do for their finances. Filing for bankruptcy allows you to wipe your slate clean and discharge most of your unsecured debts, but it does come with some consequences. Filing for bankruptcy might make your life more difficult in the future, by making it harder to borrow money, lowering your credit score or even affecting your insurance rates. It can be difficult for some people to gauge whether or not bankruptcy is in their best interests, which is where a skilled Texas bankruptcy lawyer can help.

Your Debts Far Exceed Your Income

Think about all of your different types of debt: your mortgage or rent, car payment, all of your different credit cards, and personal loans. How much total debt do you have? Now, think of your income. How much money do you bring in each month? If your monthly debt obligations are much higher than the amount of money you bring in, you may want to consider filing for bankruptcy.

You Face Foreclosure or Repossession of Your Home or Car

Another big reason why people file for bankruptcy is that they are currently experiencing or being threatened with a foreclosure or repossession. When you purchase an expensive object, such as a home or vehicle, it is unlikely that you will buy it outright. Rather, you borrow the money from a lender and repay it over time. If you fail to repay your loan, your property could be taken back. Filing for bankruptcy puts a temporary halt to any foreclosure or repossession actions, giving you time to readjust your finances.

You Have Tried Negotiating with Your Creditors

If you are considering bankruptcy, you have likely already looked at other options for debt relief. One of the easiest things you can do to help lessen the burden is contacting your debtors and seeing if they are willing to work something out with you. Many lenders do not get anything if you file for bankruptcy and will want to work with you, but this is not always the case. If your creditors are unwilling to negotiate or you are still having trouble, bankruptcy might be your best option.

Discuss Your Situation with a San Antonio, TX Bankruptcy Lawyer

Bankruptcy is not for everyone, but for many people, it can give them a second chance with their finances. If you are in debt and are wondering if bankruptcy is right for you, you should speak with a knowledgeable Boerne, TX bankruptcy attorney. At the Law Offices of Chance M. McGhee, we will look over your financial situation with you and determine whether or not bankruptcy would be in your best interests. To schedule a free consultation, call us today at 210-342-3400.

 

Sources:

https://www.investopedia.com/articles/pf/08/bankruptcy-filing.asp

https://www.thebalance.com/should-you-file-bankruptcy-960627

https://www.moneyunder30.com/when-you-need-to-file-bankruptcy

 

Unfiled Tax Returns and Bankruptcy

June 29th, 2020 at 7:00 am

  

If you’re considering filing bankruptcy, should you first prepare and submit any unfiled income tax returns? Should you prioritize paying them? 


Our last two blog posts have been about what you should and should not do before filing bankruptcy. These are important to consider even if you hope to avoid bankruptcy but are sensibly admitting it’s possible.

So two weeks ago we focused on keeping, and not selling or giving up your:

  1. assets
  2. especially any retirement funds
  3. collateral on debts, such as your home, vehicles, or furniture

Last week we discussed whether to take on more debt to buy time and maybe avoid needing to file bankruptcy.

Today we look at whether you should file any unfiled income tax returns, and possibly prioritize paying unpaid income taxes.

The Quick Answer

In general you should:

  1. prepare but not submit your tax returns to the IRS/state before seeing your bankruptcy lawyer;
  2. not hold off on getting advice from a lawyer if you can’t get your tax return(s) prepared beforehand;
  3. avoid paying any income taxes before getting advice about doing so from a lawyer;
  4. if you’ve recently paid income taxes or are being forced to, all the more reason to get legal advice about how to proceed now.

Prepare Tax Returns

There’s a simple reason why it’s good to have any unfiled tax returns prepared before seeing a lawyer. The more information you can provide to your lawyer the more concrete his or her advice to you can be.

Bankruptcy can be a surprising good way to solve your tax problems, in numerous ways. It can virtually always stop tax collection, both forced (garnishments) and voluntary (installment payments). Bankruptcy can sometimes reduce payment of tax interest and penalties. Bankruptcy can buy you time, and protect you while you prioritize who you pay. And under the right conditions bankruptcy can even completely wipe out (“discharge”) an income tax debt.

But as you might expect the interplay between tax law and bankruptcy law can get complicated. For example, whether bankruptcy discharges an income tax debt depends on whether that tax meets some detailed conditions. So the more details about your taxes you bring to your lawyer the more specific the legal advice you’ll receive.

Therefore, if you haven’t prepared any outstanding tax returns, it helps to do so before visiting your lawyer.

But Do Not Submit the Tax Returns

There’s just as simple of a reason not to submit your tax returns to the IRS/state tax authority before seeing your lawyer. Once you submit them you can’t un-submit them.

Of course you are legally compelled to send in your income tax returns. And there’s a legal deadline to do so. And you can submit an amended return if you need to correct the original return.

But submitting a tax return is in effect a legal act which has consequences. For example, it may affect the timing of your bankruptcy filing, and impose otherwise avoidable timing pressure.  

So, when possible, it generally makes sense to see your lawyer before submitting the outstanding tax return(s).

Don’t Delay Getting Legal Advice

Life can get complicated, financial and otherwise. You may have big roadblocks to getting your tax returns prepared. You may not have the necessary information or documents available to do so. Your tax returns may need the help of a tax preparer and you don’t have the money.

However, your financial circumstances may be crying out for bankruptcy and/or other legal advice. You may simply not be able to prepare the tax return(s) beforehand. While doing so would likely be helpful, this should not stop you from getting advice when you need it.

Prioritizing Paying Income Taxes

Every situation is different but, generally, see your bankruptcy lawyer before paying taxes.

Again, obviously you have a legal obligation to pay your income taxes.

However, if you have more debts than you can pay, it’s legitimate to ask which you should pay first. What order should you pay an income tax debt vs. an unpaid home mortgage vs. a late vehicle loan payment?

If you owe more than one income tax, which should you pay first? The IRS or the state? The older or newer one? Can you earmark the payment and should you do so between the tax itself vs. the unpaid interest vs. accrued penalties?  

How does the timing of tax payments affect the timing of the possible bankruptcy filing?

So you can see that there are various fair questions about paying your income taxes when you’re considering bankruptcy. All of these questions, and likely more, would greatly benefit from legal advice.

If Paying Taxes Now

So what if you are making income tax payments now. Consider three scenarios.

First, you’re making agreed monthly installment payments on an older unpaid income tax. You know the IRS/state will come after you hard and fast if you stop paying.

However, the tax you’re paying may qualify for discharge—a complete legal write off. It may make sense to stop paying the monthly payments so you can put that money for better use. You need to determine your game plan and coordinate the timing with your bankruptcy lawyer.

Second, the IRS/state is garnishing your paycheck for an income tax debt. Whether or not that tax debt qualifies for discharge, a bankruptcy filing would stop the garnishments. Clearly you would benefit from learning about how this works, and especially the pertinent timing. Plus of course you need to learn about the different bankruptcy options for your entire financial situation.

Third, you’re paying an older income tax monthly, either voluntarily or by garnishment. As a result you’re not paying any or enough current tax withholding or quarterly estimated payments. As a consequence, you may be paying an older tax debt that bankruptcy would discharge and not paying one that you could not discharge. You may be using your precious money to pay a not-required-to-pay debt instead of one you must pay after bankruptcy. It would certainly make sense to get legal advice to prevent such a less-than-best use of your money.

 

More Actions to Take When Considering Bankruptcy

June 22nd, 2020 at 7:00 am

If you’re considering filing bankruptcy, what debts can you incur and which should you avoid? What are the possible consequences?


Two weeks ago we listed 5 crucial things you’d benefit from learning about if you’re thinking about bankruptcy:

  1. if bankruptcy is indeed the best option for you
  2. how Chapter 7, 11, 12, and 13 work, and whether one is right for you
  3. what actions you should take to position yourself for either a possible or definite filing
  4. what you should avoid doing
  5. the best timing for your bankruptcy filing

We covered the first 2 of these back then. Then last week we got into # 3 and #4, actions you should take and those to avoid before bankruptcy. We focused on keeping, and not selling or giving up your:

  1. assets
  2. especially any retirement funds
  3. collateral on debts, such as your home, vehicles, or furniture

But there are many other actions that could be smart to take or to avoid as you’re contemplating bankruptcy. Consider the following questions. Should you:

  1. take on more debt to buy time and maybe avoid filing bankruptcy?
  2. file unfiled income tax returns and/or prioritize paying unpaid income taxes?
  3. catch up on late child or spousal support payments?
  4. file for divorce before or after filing bankruptcy?

We’ll cover the first of these today, the rest in upcoming blog posts.

Taking on More Debt

Taking on more debt can take many forms. Whether doing so is smart depends on which form it takes. It also depends on each person’s own circumstances.

Here are some of the most common forms:

  1. increasing unsecured debt from present creditor(s), such as adding to present credit card(s)
  2. getting new unsecured debt, such as accepting a new credit card offer
  3. getting new secured debt, such as buying a vehicle or furniture on credit
  4. increasing or getting new “priority debt,” essentially income taxes or child/spousal support

Let’s look at the first two of these today, involving increased or new unsecured debt.

Increasing Present Unsecured Debt

If the goal is to improve your financial situation, digging a deep financial hole deeper seldom works. It’s seldom a successful recipe for avoiding bankruptcy. But there may be exceptions.

Most of the time the decision to go deeper in debt is an act of near desperation. It’s generally not a well-thought out decision. You don’t have enough in your checking account to get something you need (or believe you need). So you put it on the credit card. You know it puts you further behind but you feel you don’t have much choice.

Or sometimes you do have a plan, or at least an attempt at one. You sit down (by yourself or with your spouse or a significant other). You look at your bills and the rest of your financial life and try to figure out what you should do about your increasing debt. You may tell yourself, for example, that you’ll keep on adding to your credit cards for no more than 2-3 more months. Until you get back to work, or into a better paying job, or until you pay off another debt and free up some cash flow. And if those things won’t happen then you’ll think about getting bankruptcy advice.

But whether you’re adding to your debt impulsively or following a plan, it’s really hard to know if you’re doing the right thing for yourself. It’s almost impossible to be objective because these are really personal, emotion-driving circumstances. There’s almost always a lot of fear and hope involved. Your self-esteem is on the line. And it gets crazy complicated if there’s a spouse or other loved one deeply involved. These are not good environments for making good decisions.

Getting New Unsecured Debt

The situation is similar if you have the opportunity to get a new source of unsecured debt. You wonder if it makes sense to transfer some of your current debt to the new source of credit. It may have a lower interest rate, or better payment terms, at least for the short term. Consolidating all or part of your unsecured debt seems to make sense. It looks sensible for the short term, and you hope it will help you make long term progress on your debts.

Or again, maybe you just can’t meet your expenses this month and feel you have no choice. So the new source of credit enables you to get by for another month or two.

Risk of Challenges to Discharge of a Debt

But incurring new debt can be risky ahead of filing bankruptcy. This is true if it’s additional debt on an existing account. The creditor could challenge the “discharge” (legal write off) of recently incurred debt in your bankruptcy case. The recent debt could be considered fraudulent. The argument would be that you incurred it without intending to pay it or any sensible ability to do so. (See Section 523(a)(2) of the U.S. Bankruptcy Code.)

That could be especially problematic if you are consolidating a lot of your debt with a new creditor or on a new account. Such actions could convert debt(s) that you could have legally discharged into one(s) you cannot.

Again, the larger the amount of the debt you recently accrue the greater this risk. The more that is at issue the more likely the creditor would raise the challenge. And of course the more the amount of the money the more you may still owe in spite of filing bankruptcy.

Rare Challenge to the Discharge of Any Debts

In certain (admittedly rare) circumstances taking certain actions before or during a bankruptcy could be even more dangerous. Lying on bankruptcy documents, hiding assets and such, could threaten your ability to discharge ANY of your debts. (See Section 727(a) of the Bankruptcy Code.)

 Incurring a significant amount of new debt soon before filing bankruptcy might also run you afoul of this provision.

The Best Pre-Bankruptcy Advice

It’s near impossible to know whether in your unique circumstances it make sense to incur a certain debt or not. As we said above, it’s hard not to act mostly out of hopes and fears—to be driven by such emotions. Even if you have the discipline to stop and try to figure things out, it’s still difficult to be objective.

Then if you do get your head and heart in the right place, you still don’t have information you need. Under what circumstances would incurring a new debt result in the creditor’s dischargeability challenge of that debt? What debt amounts and their timing would likely be okay and what would not? What debt actions by you would be acceptable and what would not?

The answers to these questions turn on your individual circumstances. The only source of the right answers to your truly unique questions is your bankruptcy lawyer.

Under the counsel of a lawyer, you’ll cut through the emotions to an objective analysis of your situation. You’ll get the information you need—the law as it applies to you—leading to answers to your questions. You’ll know better what debts you can incur and those you shouldn’t.

 

Call today for a FREE Consultation

210-342-3400

Facebook Blog
Back to Top Back to Top